EDITORIAL | Ramaphosa cannot be the referee between divergent views, leading means making unpopular decisions

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President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation.
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation.
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President Cyril Ramaphosa has once again given in to political pressure as he tries in earnest to be the referee between divergent political views and not the leader in the midst of a pandemic. 

His announcement on Thursday evening that public schools would be shut for the next four weeks comes despite the education department and government initially saying scientific advice pointed to the fact school closures will have little impact on the transmission of Covid-19.

The Ministerial Advisory Committee, which is advising the government on its coronavirus response, has repeatedly said children were not at risk of Covid-19. 

Ramaphosa, instead, tried to find consensus.

His giving in to political pressure from the trade unions and political formations shows he prefers to be liked more than trying to lead. 

READ | Ramaphosa vows 'very severe' consequences for theft of Covid-19 relief funds

By agreeing to the reopening of schools and then buckling to political pressure, Ramaphosa was able to appease all sides under the guise of a "listening government".

He did the same with the alcohol and cigarette bans as well as the reopening of hotels for leisure purposes. 

Ramaphosa is known to consult widely but in the time of war - and yes, fighting a pandemic can be akin to wartime - having marathon consultation sessions and trying to appease everyone will do little good. 

The president touched on a second important issue in his address, the stealing and looting of public funds aimed at the government's response to the coronavirus crises. 

He should be commended for not ignoring the widespread looting of public funds meant for personal protective equipment and other emergency responses. 

Ramaphosa announced a collaborative and co-ordinating centre that will be made up of many crime-fighting institutions as well as a signed proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit to probe tender corruption.

This is a commendable decision by him, but the country has never been short of investigating corruption. The real test would be is if there is follow-through.

Ramaphosa would have to show his seriousness to combating corruption even if it means those closest to him are investigated. 

He is not a mere observant onlooker. Being a leader means doing even what makes you unpopular.

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